Photos: Trek Bicycle Corporation (above) and UnBeige (below)
As followers of the UnBeige Twitter feed learned only minutes after it was announced last night, Trek’s Lime bike edged out 197 other nominees to win the 2009 People’s Design Award from the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. Established in 2006, the award is chosen by the public through online voting. The Lime bike joins past winners the Zon Hearing Aid, Toms Shoes, and the Katrina Cottage.
In the final and highly-anticipated segment of the tenth annual National Design Awards ceremony held yesterday evening at Cipriani in New York City, chef and Food Network star Tyler Florence presented the People’s Design Award to Hans Eckholm (pictured above), senior industrial designer for Trek Bicycles. Eckholm was quick to credit the research of design consultancy IDEO (whose co-founder Bill Moggridge picked up the National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement) and components manufacurer Shimano as critical to the development of the Lime, a coasting bike designed for the casual rider interested in biking for recreation and convenience.
After the ceremony, we tracked down Trek’s Michael Leighton, who has the enviable title of “Industrial Design Iconeer,” to learn more about the development and design of the Lime bike, which was introduced in 2007 and sells for approximately $500. The project came about after Shimano hired IDEO to analyze its business with an eye to customers that it was not already reaching, namely the 65 percent of Americans who do not currently own or ride a bike. “IDEO came back with this electronic shifting componentry, so when the rider goes faster on the bike, the gears basically shift automatically,” explained Leighton. “The user doesn’t have to think about it at all.”
Smart shifting technology in hand, Shimano approached Trek to design a bike. “Before we said yes, we went out and did our own research to really understand this customer for ourselves,” said Leighton. To get a handle on the needs of people who ride for fun, Trek teamed with product development firm Design Concepts. “We met a bunch of people, observed them, looked at how they really used the bikes.” The key lesson that emerged: keep it simple.
“Our big goal was to make it a really clean-looking bicycle,” noted Leighton. “Because of keeping it simple, it was a difficult project to develop.” Free of cables and with virtually maintenance-free mechanics, the Lime is designed to be appealing and approachable, but it’s not your grandmother’s Schwinn. Among the niftiest features is a flip-up saddle ideal for storing electronic devices and other personal items. Would-be Lime riders are “buying products like Sony and Apple and Honda,” he said, “and we looked at why they buy those products and then how do we incorporate that into our bikes.”
Meanwhile, the Cooper-Hewitt is becoming something of a real biking booster, having recently collaborated with with New York’s Department of Transportation on a competition to design a new sidewalk bicycle rack for the city. “More people on the road with two tires, rather than four, is a big step toward a greener city and world,” said Caroline Baumann, acting director of the museum, in a statement issued this morning. “I’m delighted that the public has chosen to honor the Lime bike.”